Sunday, April 26, 2009

Early morning bike ride

I went on a bike ride this morning since a friend happened to have some extra bikes and wanted some company. It was definitely worth having to leave my house at 5:30 to meet her and the other companions at 6. The weather was wonderful - warm, but not hot, with a slight breeze. It's been over 100 almost every day for the last two weeks, and I'm not usually up by 6, so I had no idea early mornings were so beautiful.

We rode about 20 minutes, mostly through small side roads, some gravel, some paved, to Golconda Fort. Seeing the morning sun over the fort and the Qutub Shah tombs next door was a different experience, needless to say. Throngs of people decend on the place when open - mostly locals to picnic on the well maintained grounds - so the quiet and calm of the early morning was much appreciated. Then about 25 minutes back (slightly uphill) to a pancake breakfat with fresh mango and a rare find - strawberries!

Fruit here is very seasonal, and no one had seen strawberries for about two weeks. The hostess saw some last week and bought 8 portions - four for eating and four for freezing. I may have to do the same with mangos, which will only be available until the rain comes (late may).

Speaking of, there are too many varieties of mangos to count. The problem is none are labeled, so I have to remember the shape and color of the ones I like ... which is really hard when looking at piles of eight different kinds. One kind is like in the US (red/green skin), but the rest seem to be some version of yellow and I think there's no hope. The good news is, though I have preferences, they all taste great, so it's hard to go wrong.

If you come to Hyderabad, I'll see if we can borrow some bikes - it gives a different perspective when going more slowly along the roads!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Happy Birthday Greg!

Greg promises that at some point, he'll post again. Really, he will. But for now you have me.

We had a fun time Thursday evening for Greg's birthday. About 20 people came over for dinner, American-style time. As in, the party was from 6:30-10 (way early for Indian dinner), and most everyone was here by 7. Of course, most everyone was American, and to those who weren't I noted that we had work the next morning, so we really were serious about the time :)

It's very easy to host a party when Sarwary is there to cook! She cooked up some chicken and veg biyrani (roughtly Indian fried rice), some muttar paneer (ie, my homemade cheese and peas), and some mirchi-ka-sala (a peanut and pepper sauce to eat with the biyrani or on its own) and chapatti (bread). And she chopped up watermellon and fresh mangos (yum!). I made a bean and veggie salad, adapted from my sister in law's recipe for locally available food. We ordered some samosas and also gulab jamon (donut holes in rose water syrup) for desert - Greg followed his personal tradition of requesting a non-cake for dessert.

In any case, I talked about it all with Sarwary, she cooked some on Wednesday (chopped the fruit and the mirchi-ka-sala) and the rest on Thursday. We came home from work, I put out all the food she prepared and, voila!, party in motion. Everyone had a great time and thought Greg's "birthday gulab jamon" was kind of funny, but, hey, it's his birthday.

William had a great time, too, with two little girls over to play and some many adults paying attention to him. He stayed up until 9 (an hour later than usual) when he looked at me and Sarwary and said, "Sarwary, bed!" And to sleep he went. He also mastered saying, "Happy Birthday Dada!" which he repeated for two days any time he saw the candles.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Different prego experience, #1

I went to go get some blood tests done today - it is in a separate location from the doctor/hospital I'm seeing. As with many things in India, it was an adventure. First, just talking on the phone to try and figure out the lab's hours and trying to figure out when I had to arrive (one test had to be 2 hours post-meal) was a challenge. After that was sorted out, the next trick was to actually communicate what I needed done.

First, there is no order in India. I walked in to a mob scene around the reception desk with people waving slips of paper and trying to get their name taken down and money paid so they could go to the collection area. By now, I'm pretty good at pushing my way to the front and making myself known (I stand out, which helps a bit). But when I showed the guy my two slips of paper (one from the Hyderabad doctor and one from the Embassy doctor in Delhi), he looked totally blank and called his manager over. A major benefit of sticking out is that usually the manager is called over pretty quickly to help me in a multitude of situations.

The manager, quickly realizing that I'm probably going to be a person who easily pays the bills, escorted me into a side conference room where she had to make a series of calls to different parts of the lab because the tests ordered by the Embassy doc (to match what they'd do in the US) are not standard for India. It took some time, but eventually they figured out which "package" I would fit into. Note: the standard blood tests here cost about 400 Rs ($8) and the extra ones for the US cost 2500 Rs ($50). Still less expensive than blood work in the US and fully covered by my insurance, but interestig all the same.

Then came the actual blood collection, which I was slightly nervous about, being in a third world country. I totally flipped out (correctly) when when I saw a technician take one person's blood with bare hands and then take the next person's blood without washing his hands or using/changing gloves. And, there was no soap in the bathroom where I had to leave my urine sample. The people thought I was totally neurotic, because I asked the technician to wash his hands. He did, but then he touched about a million things before he went to open the (thankfully sterile-packaged) needle. So, I asked him again to use the Purel sitting right on the desk in front of me before he started. He did, sort of looking at the other technician guy. But, whatever - I don't really care if they think I'm neurotic as long as I don't get any infections!

We'll see what the situation is at the maternity hospital on Monday (it's a totally different institution from the blood testing center I went to today - no relation at all). If there's no soap in the bathroom and if nurses aren't using gloves or aren't washing hands before coming in ... I may be rethinking delivering here. If basic things like that are off, I would get really nervous about more serious things. The OB who saw me did wash her hands when she came in to the exam room for my first check up, so I'm not writing things off just yet. We're just waiting until Monday when we take our tour after the sonogram before any judgement is passed.

First step in the end of diapers?

It may actually be possible to have only one child in diapers at a time. I'm not getting my hopes up too much, but William successfully went PooP in the potty this evening. We were cleaning up dinner and he said, "Mama, poo poo." So, given that he'd been sitting on his potty for some time now with no success, I said we should go sit on the potty. I took his diaper off and sat with him a bit, but then he said, "Mama, outside." So, what else was I to do? I went outside the bathroom to the living room.

A little bit later, I went in to see what was up, and he was still sitting on the potty ... but when he stood up, well, you know what was there. I've been reading about different potty training "methods" since the last post on this issue, but perhaps a "system" won't be necessary, and William will gradually get the hang of it. That would be so easy for us!

Of course, come November, there will be enough diapers to think about all over again!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

On the family front...

We realized we hadn't posted here yet, and the word is getting out. We're expecting a second baby in early November, a.k.a Floyd. The first ultrasound is scheduled for April 20, when we'll get an exact due date and have more info on where the birth may occur. The plan right now is to have the baby here (way easier, logistically) unless something pops up and we feel returning to the US is preferable / safer. We have until September to make that decision.

As of now, Floyd is pretty much doing its own thing and hasn't really made its presence known except for two things: (1) Pam can no longer drink non-UHT milk (i.e., the milk we get delivered in packets - boxed milk is OK) without getting an upset stomach. The guess is that there's a higher lactic acid content in the packet milk (its unhomogenized, but is pasteurized). (2) Pam is starting to have to cull her wardrobe for a slightly thicker waistline. Each week a new skirt or pair of pants gets the kaibash.

Stay tuned for ultrasound results and notes on how being pregnant here differs from DC. It will be a cutural experience all unto itself, for sure.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Travelogue: Coonoor

The (third) in a series of side trips we've taken. Eventually, I'll go back and fix up a Varanasi and Agra summary.

First, the low down:
Where we went: Coonoor, Tamil Nadu, in the Nilgiri Mountains (Western Ghats)
Why we went: Elevation 1600 meters - a relief from the Hyderabad hot. Tea estates to see.
How we got there: One hour flight to Coimbatore, two hour drive to hotel (up a mountain on switchback roads)
Where we stayed: The Gateway Hotel (part of the Taj Group)
What we paid: 7000 Rs / night ($140) for a two room suite, all meals included (excl. tax)
And the extra charges: occasional snack/room service (50 Rs for tea, 300 Rs for a meal), car rental (to/from airport 2200 Rs each way, 1/2 day car rental with driver 800 Rs, jeep rental with guide for a hike 1800 Rs)

And for the details:
Pam's favorite food at the hotel: a crudite and pineapple salad with mustard-tamarind dressing and the "Mexican Brownies." I'm not sure what made them "Mexican," but the fudginess was to rival any brownie in the U.S. and totally unlike the dry brownies common in India.
Greg's favorite food: dosa and the variety of Indian curries
William's favorite food: chocolate muffins and penne pasta with fresh tomato sauce

William's favorite activity: digging in the sand at the kid's play ground. The hotel had four different lawn areas which were great for William to run around in. We'd generally do some activity in the morning (a little sightseeing or a hike), put William down for a nap back at the hotel, and then just play around on the hotel grounds in the afternoon/evening until William went to bed.

The biggest disappointment: having our hike cut short the last day because of a wild bison (Gaur, on the path. He wouldn't move, and at our guide's recommendation, we aborted the hike. Apparently, these bison can trample people if the people get too close. Greg didn't even get to see the gaur, which made the failed hike even worse for him.

Best part of the hotel: friendly dining hall and housekeeping staff who enjoyed playing with William when they weren't working.
Where the hotel needs improvement: the front desk / concierge staff. Get a few management consultants in there for a week or two and whip them into shape! Really, the improvements to make the service comperable to a nice Western-style resort hotel would not be large - just take some training in communication, planning and initiative.

Overall recommendation: it was a great place for a weekend trip to get away from the heat of Hyderabad and to let William just pack around outside. It's not a place for someone looking for an "active" vacation - there should be some good hikes there through tea plantations, but we're not 100% sure how to find a guide who knows them (it took us some asking just to go on the two half-day hikes we went (and try to go) on). If William hadn't been having so much fun playing outside, four days would have been a little too long.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Milk, and its components

Dairy has always been part of our household diet - butter, cold milk on cereal, hot milk after dinner, yogurt for lunch, etc etc. In the US, though, you buy each separate dairy component pre-made. Yogurt comes in plastic tubs. Butter in sticks. Milk in gallon jug. While one can purchase these things in Hyderabad, too, I've found myself experimenting, with Sarwary's help. Which, admittedly, has sort of weirded Greg out.

It started because pre-packaged yogurt is pretty expensive here, but a half-liter of "packet" milk (so called because it comes in a plastic packet) is only 15 Rs ($0.30) for whole milk or 9 Rs ($0.18) for skim. Sarwary, being ever concious of our food expenditures, helpfully pointed out that she could make yogurt from packet milk at about 1/3 the cost of pre-made. We took her up on the offer and discovered that homemade yogurt was not only less expensive, but also tastes 100X better.

For a while, she was purchasing a packet of fresh (non-pasturized) buffallo milk on her way in every morning. While I've read yogurt from fresh milk is totally safe because the yogurt making process pasturizes it, I decided to investigate other options. The UHT ("box") milk was out - the high temperatures it is pasturized at to make it shelf-stable prohibits any yogurt-making ability. Then I noticed our neighbors were having packet milk delivered - and the packets said pasturized - problem solved!

For the first month, I've set our order at 1 liter (2 packets) of whole (6%) milk - one packet for yogurt, one for William - and a half liter of "double toned" milk (ie, 0.3% milk fat, close to skim). We still boil the milk for William just to make sure the pasturization is complete. The best part is the thick cream - it is 6% after all! - floats to the top. I skim that off and put a teaspon on fresh fruit salad for dessert!

Some days, though - more often than Greg would like - the milk is not used quickly enough. It only lasts about two days from the date on the packet, and sometimes less. The other day when I was boiling William's milk, rather than a nice cream on the top, I noticed thick chunks floating in a yellow liquid. hmm... no good, I thought. But, the thick chunks looked awfuly like paneer (Indian cheese), so I saved them and tossed the yellow stuff.

Sure enough, after some conversations with the ladies at the office, I discovered the two ways to make paneer. If your milk is fresh, put a little lemon juice or vinegar in it to break it up, and boil until the chunks come. If your milk is spoiled, you just have to boil and the separation occurs naturally! My "Indian quesadilla" for lunch today (paneer between two whole wheat chapattis) was quite delicious.

I haven't started making my own butter yet. To do that, I'd have to save up the little bits of cream and not put them on fruit salad. Plus, churning is a little more work-intensive than just letting something sit on the stove at a low boil. But, yogurt, cream, milk, and paneer are great. I've been debating about ordering some supplies to make mozzerella, too, since that's pretty easy if you have the right "starter" tablet.

Greg is still weirded out and has decided to stick with yogurt and none of my other dairy creations. As he has a slight lactose intollerance anyway, it's no big loss. If you come across any other recipes for spoiled milk, send them my way!

Saturday, April 4, 2009


I'm in India, birthplace of yoga. Why not try it, then?

Turns out it was a little trickier than I thought. Many groups meet in the mornings- either really early at 5AM or too close to when I have to start work. I couldn't find something from, say 6 to 7 in the morning. On top of that, the groups aren't really "classes." People who have been practicing for some time gather in a park for a synchronised session. I'm more on the beginning side of yoga, so I was looking for a teacher.

A bit of research revealed that most teachers here teach individually. While the personal attention is great, that also meant I wanted to choose my teacher carefully - no nut cases allowed! And some Americans who come to India expressly for yoga (not all, but some) are looking to "find" themselves, so their teacher recommendations might not be the type of teacher I need. I am more interested in a teacher who doesn't push philosophy too much.

Last weekend, I went to what was billed as a yoga class with a non-profit group Greg had had a meeting with. It turned out to be a 3 team-building find-your-motivation class with some breathing exercises built in. While culturally interesting, not quite what I was expecting, especially for three hours! Thankfully, though, one of the leaders (who were all yoga teachers) came up after and, recognizing that that was probably not why I had come, gave me her card.

I called her and had my first yoga lesson yesterday. I have to commit to four one-hour individual lessons (which cost a whoping 1200 Rs or $24), and a 20-min/day routine at home. She wrote out the home routine for me and said it will change as we move along. Given that I'm pregnant (which I told her), I told her it certainly would be changing!

After a month, we'll see what I think. For now, this teacher does seem to have the low-key stretching-focused practice I was looking for.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Murder at Hanging Gardens!

Shockingly, it's not exaggeration.  It happened Monday night, apparently rather early in the evening.  We had an American friend over for dinner, and the three of us went along having a good time, completely oblivious to the incident.  Pam and I didn't know about it until Tuesday morning when we got to work.  We even read the paper and didn't know it - the article referred to our neighborhood by a name we don't know!  

Anyway, the reason we didn't know is that it happened in the staff quarters, which are a world to themselves.  The builders did their best to make sure that the staff are out of sight of the owners, and it worked - unless you specifically go down there, you would never know the area exists.  In this case, it seems that a man had an illicit relationship with a woman who works in our building, and at some point she angered him, and he strangled her.  Ghastly.  

It took the police a day or two to find the man, but we're told that he has now been caught.  I suppose between that and the fact that it was a domestic dispute, there's not too much for the rest of us to worry about.  Still, our driver, Ramakrishna, was a bit spooked.  His mom even called him home, back to their village for the next couple of nights!